Sussex Barn Owls are ringed for National Monitoring Scheme

Three baby barn owls that have become “stars” of their own live webcam show have been ringed by scientists as part of a national initiative to monitor key bird species.

Hundreds of people around the world have been following the daily trials and tribulations of the three chicks, who hatched around six weeks ago in a specially designed owl box at a site in West Sussex. The box is one of dozens provided by the South Downs National Park Authority and Sussex Ornithological Society to help support the birds of prey.

Ornithologist Graham Roberts joined National Park ranger Angela Ward as the three owlets were ringed near their home at a barn near Midhurst. He also weighed the chicks and took their measurements, including the length of their wing feathers.

Graham, who has a special licence to carry out ringing and works for Sussex Ornithological Society, said: “Barn owls have been nesting at this particular barn for many years in the box provided by the South Downs National Park Authority.

“We have three young this year from the five eggs that were laid. The number of young tends to be determined by whether it’s a good year for voles or not and this year has been pretty good.

“We have three healthy chicks, varying in age from five and half weeks to six and a half weeks.”

Explaining the importance of ringing, Graham added: “In Britain we’ve had a ringing scheme for over 100 years – it’s the oldest in the world and is co-ordinated by the British Trust for Ornithology.

“Ringers are highly-trained and licensed to do this activity. As barn owls are at the top of the food chain it’s important to monitor their success and record populations throughout the country.

“In this case for these chicks the ring will stay on the bird for life. Each ring has a unique number so if anybody finds that bird and sees the ring, they can report it and get a history of that bird sent to them.”

There are 97 barn owl boxes spread across the Wealden heath area – which stretches from Petersfield to Pulborough – with dozens more across the rest of the South Downs National Park.

Angela, Wealden Heath Ranger, said: “Barn owls are a good indicator of the health of landscape. As a general rule the more barn owls we have, the healthier the eco-system is.

“Landowners have a great affinity with barn owls because a long time ago they very often had an owl loft in a barn, but many of those barns have been converted or lost over the years.

“Most of the landowners are very keen to have barn owls back and put up nest boxes, but they don’t have always have the time to do. That’s where the National Park comes in advising landowners on nesting sites and boxes.

“It’s also helps us talk to landowners about habitat for barn owls, as well as all sorts of other species such as ground nesting birds, small mammals and everything going up into the food chain, with barn owls at the top of the food chain.”

To keep track of the progress of the barn owls, tune in to the South Downs National Park Barn Owl Watch at https://www.carnyx.tv/LiveCameras/WildlifeCameras/BarnOwl.aspx

Five Barn Owl facts

  • Barn owls eat mostly voles, mice, shrews and sometimes rats.
  • Historically, the barn owl was Britain’s most common owl
  • species, but today only one farm in about 75 can boast a barn owl nest.
  • Barn owls usually hunt at night – even in total darkness they can find the smallest vole using their ultra-sensitive hearing.
  • Barn owls have lop-sided ears! One is higher than the other, which helps them to pinpoint exactly where tiny sounds are coming from.
  • A wild barn owl usually eats about four small mammals every night – around 1,460 per
    year!

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